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New Directions

How you implement a change is as important as the change itself.

No matter how important a change in one of your company policies might be, how you implement the new process is critical to whether your employees will accept it. "It's important your employees not feel something is being done to them that they have absolutely no choice about--whether or not that's actually the case," says Peggy Isaacson, president of Peggy Isaacson & Associates, a human resources consulting firm in Orlando, Florida. "How you make the announcement and schedule the change has a lot to do with how it will be accepted and embraced by your employees. Keep in mind, too, that people tend to be uncomfortable with change, even when it may be to their benefit. You want to implement new policies in ways that will make the changes as painless as possible."

Making an unwelcome change can result in low morale among your employees, a decline in productivity and even unnecessary turnover. "The primary keys are communication and time," says Isaacson. "Communicate with every affected employee so they understand exactly what you're doing, why you're doing it, and what the impact will be on them personally and on the company overall. Then, as you implement the new policy, allow enough time for people to get used to whatever is going to be different. During the transition period, encourage your employees to give you feedback. And be alert to signs of trouble: any general attitude shifts, perhaps increases in absenteeism or other signals that employees are dissatisfied."

The positive implementation of a policy actually begins with its development, says Greg Hally, 35, co-owner of Hally O'Toole Design, a full-service advertising agency in Salt Lake City. "Even though our employees don't ultimately make the [policy] decisions, they feel ownership because we involve them in the process," Hally says. Hally helps his employees understand what prompted the need for the policy, the reasoning that went into its creation, and what ideas were accepted and rejected before the policy was finalized. With this foundation, implementation is usually only a simple matter of relaying the final details.

Is it easier to make a decision on your own and announce it without discussion? Of course, says Hally, but that approach is more likely to result in disgruntled employees who don't feel like they're part of the team. Not only do Hally and his partner disagree with a dictatorial style of management, they also believe employee input helps create stronger, more effective policies. "We hope our people always feel comfortable enough that they can step up and offer something," says Hally. "They all come from different backgrounds, and that diversity can bring something to light that we wouldn't have thought of otherwise."

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This article was originally published in the August 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: New Directions.

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